My Signature Item

First-Place Article
“Bring an item that represents who you are,” the teacher said. That’s fine, I thought. But who am I?

The first assignment in my sophomore English class was to bring “a signature item” the following Wednesday. “A what?” the class chorused. “A signature item,” the teacher explained, “is something that represents who you are.”

Uh oh, I thought. Something deep—what if I don’t know who I am?

Within my heart lay a desire to live a life that would matter. I wanted to make a positive impact and to know that my life was not lived in vain. Something within me told me that this was possible but did not say how. My confidence was lacking, and I was unsure how I, of all people, could do it.

Since I was originally from Utah, people often asked me if I was a Mormon. Each time, I would answer in a different way: “I don’t know.” “I was baptized, but I don’t go to church.” “No, but I should be.”

For some reason, I felt a responsibility to God to be a Mormon. But it didn’t make sense because I didn’t quite believe in God. At times, I would look out at the starry night and feel strangely alone, yet not alone. The universe filled me with a sense of longing and inexplicable familiarity. When I overheard people talk of how many wonderful blessings they had received from God, I listened with stoic nonchalance. Yet I had wonderful dreams, dreams of courage and honor.

My oldest sister, Lark, was the only active member of the Church in our family. When she moved to Seattle, Washington, with her new husband, Tim, they invited me to attend church with them in the ward they would be moving into, a half hour’s drive away. It was something she wanted me to do, and I somehow knew it was something I was supposed to do. So I decided to go.

With my life fluctuating and with the decision of who I would become hovering before me, I plunged into high school. I recognized that I had a slate wiped almost completely clean. The teachers didn’t know me. Neither did most of the students. The opportunity was excellent for me to redefine who I was, both to others and to myself. I had mixed emotions about popularity, but thought I might have an outside chance at it if I played my cards with precision. This was when the signature item was assigned.

Needless to say, I had not come up with a signature item on Monday. Nor had I come up with anything before going to the weekly Tuesday night youth activity in my sister’s ward. She made some suggestions on the way to the meetinghouse, but none of them satisfied me.

The events of the combined activity had been kept secret, so it was with curiosity that I viewed the cultural hall after my arrival. My first glance revealed tables that appeared to be set for dinner. A second look revealed that there was no food on the tables. Instead of plates containing physical food, there were copies of the Book of Mormon containing spiritual food; instead of eating utensils, there were writing utensils; and instead of napkins, there were sheets of paper. As I took a seat, my attention was captured by this riddle that had been set before me.

Two missionaries were the central speakers. Each bore his testimony of how he came to learn that the Book of Mormon was, indeed, the word of God.

When they turned our attention to a video which told the story of Christ’s visit to the righteous Nephites and Lamanites after his resurrection, an incredible feeling came over me. The way Nephi described the situation then is also an apt description of how I felt: “And it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them … to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn” (3 Ne. 11:3). Pure knowledge of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon entered my soul that night, leaving a mark that would affect me eternally.

As Lark and Tim drove me home, I mentally went through my homework checklist. First period, algebra, done. Second period … Sixth period, English, signature item—uh, oh. What could I take?

In a still, small voice, the Spirit whispered, “The Book of Mormon.” I instantly recognized that it was not my physical ears that had heard this statement. This was the first time I had felt the Spirit with such distinction and clarity.

“Cool!” I stated with outright enthusiasm.

“What?” Lark said as she looked over her shoulder.

In awe, I explained, “I think the Book of Mormon should be my signature item.”

A smile spread quickly across her face, and she said, “Oh, that sounds great, but it will be really hard.”

That realization dampened my enthusiasm considerably. There goes my clean slate, I thought ruefully. Would I be giving up popularity and the chance of making friends in my high school life? Sensing my hesitation, Lark suggested that I pray about it before going to bed. The idea appealed to me, so I agreed. I thanked her for taking me home and went inside my house.

I placed the Book of Mormon with my school books. Then kneeling, I prayed, “Dear Heavenly Father, are you sure this is what you want me to do?” The answer I felt was an immediate yes, accompanied by the assurance of the Spirit. “Will you help me?” I asked. Another strong positive feeling calmed my nerves. Reassured, I went to sleep.

As my sixth-period English class approached, I grew more uncertain. The teacher gave instructions to the class. We were to state our name, what our signature item was, and why it was our signature item. The first two requirements I had down pat, but for some reason, I hadn’t thought about the third. I knew what my signature item was; I didn’t know why it was my signature item.

When the call for volunteers was made, one girl from the front row stood up and shared her signature item. Then the girl next to her stood up and took her turn. A pattern started developing in the order of volunteers. The third person on the front row stood to share her item. After that, the pattern was set. To the class, it was probably just an amusing way of alleviating the uncertainty and pressures of being called to the front of the room. But it meant that I would be the final person to share his signature item.

When my turn came, I slowly walked to the front of the room. I hadn’t written a speech or even made a mental outline of what I would say. I began with, “My name is Derek Tucker, and this is my signature item. It is the Book of Mormon.” From that time until I finished speaking, I felt the Spirit guiding my words. To this day I am not really sure what I said.

After I finished, I braced myself for a verbal assault. But to my amazement and gratitude, there was silence. What truly took me by surprise, however, were the facial expressions of the students. About one-third of the class had tears in their eyes. Others had stoic expressions. And still others were nervously looking away. Though not everyone may have felt comfortable about the subject, there seemed to be an atmosphere of respect.

I turned to walk back to my seat when suddenly my attention was turned to the teacher, whose face was streaming with tears. She whispered in a choked up voice, “That’s a strong testament.” I was stunned; time slowed as the statement penetrated my heart. I said, “Thank you,” and then walked back to my desk.

The Book of Mormon was now emblazoned upon my formerly clean slate, never to be erased. I had put my trust in the Lord, and he had helped me. I now knew who I was—a precious son of Heavenly Father. And I knew that by being his servant my life would have meaning and value.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Roger Motzkus